The Cost of a Boring Experience




The Cost of a Boring Experience

The increasing speed of culture in a digital world keeps driving aesthetics, brands and experiences towards uniformity — a “sea of sameness” with a very real financial cost. In the quest for differentiation, creativity is not just an asset. It’s a necessity.

Words by Jon Judah, Chief Strategy Officer

Images by Mateo Salamanca with Midjourney

Over the years, I’ve prepared many strategy briefings, which included a variety of charts, diagrams, and visuals. These were designed to challenge my clients to realize their true potential. However, there’s one slide that appears in almost every vision and strategy presentation we create at Huge. It’s the “sea of sameness” slide. This slide typically features screenshots of our client’s digital experience alongside those of its competitors, revealing little to no visual distinction between them.

Usually, when we get to this slide I’ll note that, in their category, no one seems to want to stand out or lose out, resulting in a bunch of mediocre brand experiences that look like one another. In theory, this is the moment for the team to realize the chance to do something distinctive. Yet while some chatter about needing to be bolder and standing out happens, inevitably the conversation turns to something less risky and “best-practice”-driven. 

That’s when my inner voice screams.

We find ourselves in an era where digital platforms are so overwhelmed with bullshit that the challenge for marketing executives (and even parents, for that matter) extends beyond just capturing attention—it’s about maintaining it. Well, at least for 30 seconds — the minimum amount of time a user must watch or listen on Spotify or Youtube in order for the content to be “counted" (and thereby paid royalties). As a result, everything has seemingly become a pathway to keeping you engaged; an optimized obsession with consistency and uniformity that increasingly overlooks actual user needs. I believe this homogeneity, while streamlining user experiences and driving efficiency, also comes at a significant cost. A creative and financial one.

The high price of conformity.

“Being safe is risky” marketing guru and author Seth Godin once famously mused, highlighting the paradox at the heart of modern marketing strategies. But safety isn’t just confined to ad land and communications: the digital landscape is increasingly dominated by similar aesthetics, functionalities, and content strategies. For instance, the prevalence of minimalist design (inspired by tech giants like Apple and Google) has led to a sea of indistinguishable websites and apps. Just browse a few fashion sites and you’ll see that Bonobos looks like Greats who feel like Aritzia who looks a lot like the Gap. In gaming, the industry grapples with a deluge of sequels, remakes and games that prioritize monetization over innovation, feeling more like a Vegas sportsbook than an imaginative world of interaction and fun. Meanwhile, social media platforms are filled with content that follows the same formulas for engagement, from viral challenges and memes to standardized post formats. 

It seems like the entire world is becoming a continuous stream of memes.

But is any of our anxious itching to hit the “skip” button actually coming at a cost to brands? I believe the flood of generic content in recent years has had a two-pronged impact for brands, simultaneously inflating the cost per acquisition (now over 200% from ten years ago) while diminishing the overall effectiveness of marketing efforts. In a saturated market, dull campaigns and brand experiences require significantly larger budgets to match the performance of more engaging, creative work. Marketing consultant Peter Field’s recent research into the “Cost of Dull” estimates that it costs an average of $12M more annually for campaigns that fail to stand out. Innovative campaigns, by contrast, can achieve a much higher performance for every dollar spent, underscoring the value of creativity and differentiation in maximizing marketing budgets.

When boring infects the experience and the brand.

The actual costs of offering a boring digital experience, however, are more nuanced and complex — and therefore harder to calculate — than those of traditional advertising. Part of this is due to the omnichannel nature of modern brand experiences, from social to web and apps, all the way and from there to kiosks and experiential interactions. But most digital-centric brand experiences are also inherently rational and functional, aimed at getting you to click, swipe or interact to achieve a goal rather than sitting back and potentially being entertained by an ad.

The digital challenge also frames a tension for newer experiences that may use AI; while much of its promise lies in its ability to eliminate boring or repetitive tasks, it’s still an innovation rooted in rational science and engineering. Perhaps as GenAI evolves to take on more of these tasks on behalf of users, we may begin to see more exciting applications and use cases.

But the cost of uninspired work goes beyond just ad campaigns and omnichannel experiences. It gets to the core of a brand’s creative DNA. A study by the Harvard Business Review, titled “The Business Case for Curiosity” (Gino, 2018), revealed that companies fostering creativity outperform their counterparts in revenue growth and market positioning. Nielsen found similar results in their analysis of “The ROI of Creativity and Innovation” (2019), showing that brands prioritizing creative marketing strategies see a significantly higher return on investment, affirming the economic disadvantage of conformity.

Moreover, the trend towards standardization and predictability in digital experiences has led to a consumer base that is both jaded and less responsive to traditional marketing tactics. While we don’t want everything to become exciting (sometimes a seamless checkout or cart refill is just fine for our needs), would a return to the excitement and energy of the early days of the Space Jam internet be all that bad at a time when machines increasingly dictate our experience?

How to break the mold.

In a marketplace where attention is the ultimate currency, being bold, different, and engaging isn’t just a creative choice—it’s a strategic imperative. So where do you start to find new points of inspiration that avoid boring, dull experiences? Here are three strategies to consider:

1. Challenge the non-negotiables.

Products and services — and the brand experiences built around them — are often viewed as non-negotiable. (You know, that “it’s always been this way” thinking.) The reality is that assumptions on how a brand experience “must be” are based on little more than how others have done it in the past. 

Instead, maybe take a little naivete into your analysis and question why everyone else is doing it the same way, and what might happen if you focused on the edge or niche cases. Platforms like Twitch show how embracing smaller markets can lead to mainstream success, illustrating the value of pioneering over following. Your strategy should seek to redefine categories and expectations, not just refine them.

2. Get out from behind the screen.

The abundance of new AI-driven tools and platforms makes it extraordinarily easy to design a performant experience from the comfort of your laptop. Add in the rise of asynchronous remote work and we begin to see convenience robbing the joy of IRL discovery. 

Instead, go live the lives of your customers and users to prompt more novel ways to stand out. At Huge we encourage all of our teams to try the life of our client’s customers through shopping their sites, using their products and services, and building empathy as much as possible. 

As musician Nick Cave recently wrote when asked about having an office for his creative endeavors, “perhaps the thing we have spent so much time escaping, or attempting to create, was there all along — the blessed space, the sacred space, the truly creative place — the world around us.”

3. Rethink relevance in the era of democratized data.

For decades, personalization meant creating a brand experience that was likely based on a persona or some type of segmentation — which inherently becomes generic and (worse yet) boring and expensive to break through the noise. Recent research revealed that over 80% of marketers admit that their current personalization efforts heavily rely on assumptions about customers rather than high-quality insights, with over half (51%) of UK consumers saying that the targeted content they receive online is often “boring” or “unhelpful.” 

Technology and data are the usual scapegoats here, but that’s more a function of the platforms being used today. The rapid growth of GenerativeAI means brands can become much more relevant by using the growing democratization of data to go beyond targeted advertising and inform much more bespoke experiences that reflect a more fluid view of choice and preference. Spotify’s personalized playlists are a testament to the power of using data to create individualized user experiences, fostering a deeper connection and loyalty. This approach not only enhances the user experience but also sets a brand apart in a crowded market, thereby reducing the cost of acquisition.


The shift towards uniformity in the digital landscape presents a clear call to action for marketing and business leaders: differentiate or be drowned out. By challenging the non-negotiables, getting out from behind the screen, and leveraging data for personalization, brands can overcome the challenges posed by the “sea of sameness.” The financial benefits of such a strategy are clear, offering a path to not only capture consumer attention but also to achieve a more efficient and effective use of marketing resources. In the quest for differentiation, creativity is not just an asset. It’s a necessity.

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